2.) Religion says showing grace is dangerous. Jesus says, “I know.”
“I preached 15 years before I ever mentioned the word ‘grace’ in a sermon.” That statement was told to me by a man who preached at a church where I worked. I think about the magnitude of that statement often. Mostly because I am not much different. I go seasons in teaching where I don’t mention grace either. Here’s why.
Grace is scandalous. It’s like a wild animal that can’t be tamed. Except the animal is full of love, mercy, and forgiveness, not huge claws, sharp teeth, and a big appetite. But religion doesn’t care. It just sees something uncontrollable. And religion doesn’t deal with uncontrollable. It’s too dangerous. Even if the uncontrollable is God himself.
So, religion keeps grace in a cage. Religion puts conditions on grace. It can only be seen during business hours. And if the weather’s bad, don’t even bother. This is how God intends Christians to use grace, right?
Wrong. Grace is unconditional. Grace is uncontrollable. Think about it. God totally exposes himself and makes himself vulnerable because he knows this type of grace is the only thing sufficient to truly transform hearts. Nothing else will work. True grace has the potential to be abused, but without this layer, it wouldn’t be grace. It wouldn’t transform. And it couldn’t save us.
Without the scandalous grace God offers and Jesus models, we are left with lifeless, “follow the rules” religion.
3.) Religion grades righteousness on a curve. Jesus grades righteousness on a cross.
True story. In college, I took a Calculus class graded on a curve. My test scores were 25, 52, and 67. That’s called flunking in style. But here’s the beauty of a curve. My final grade in the class? B. Needless to say, I signed up for the same teacher for my next math class. You see, with a curve you don’t actually have to pass the class or know the material. Just know enough to be average.
With Jesus, however, righteousness is measured by the cross. When righteousness is graded on the cross, everyone looks strikingly similar. Murderers. Candy thieves. Liars. When you realize the cross alone is the standard for righteousness, you will run to it and praise God for taking your filthiness and replacing it with his perfectness. And you will encourage others to run with you.
With God there is no curve. There is only a cross.
4.) Religion makes God the boss and you the employee. Jesus makes God the father and you the son.
Religion is a like a contract. Contracts have conditions. Do the right things, you are fine. Do the wrong things, you will be looking for another job. There is no intimacy or relationship. Often times, there is no dialogue. Just do your part (act right) and God will do his (allow you into heaven).
Jesus says God is your father and you are his son or daughter. Children don’t have contracts. I have two boys, and they are welcome at my house as long as I have breath in my lungs. I don’t care how far they go off the deep end. This is why Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). God not only allows his children to come home if they abuse his goodness, he throws them a friggin’ party! A party!
Now, that sounds like a God I want to serve!